The Ultimate Guide to Rubber Playground Flooring
Spending hours on the playground is a cherished childhood memory, and taking a tumble while playing is a nearly universal experience. Proper flooring material for play spaces ensures safety while letting kids make the most out of childhood.
Table of Contents
- Why your playground flooring matters
- Types of playground flooring
- Benefits and Safety Features
- Other uses for rubber tiles
- Final Thoughts
Why your playground flooring matters
Those responsible for maintaining playgrounds in schools, parks, and other spaces take responsibility for the safety of the children who use them. Playgrounds are places where children run, climb, jump, and engage in other activities where there may be a risk of injury. Playground equipment can be over 3m tall. A fall from that height onto the wrong type of surface could result in broken bones, concussions, or worse.
The right flooring for a playground can prevent injuries. Material with proper shock absorption can cushion falls from equipment and from tripping. Prolonged standing and running can also put a strain on children’s joints. In the short term, this may cause fatigue. Later in life, this could lead to more injuries and chronic pain. Shock-absorbing surfaces decrease the pressure on ankles, knees, and hips over long periods of activity.
Other considerations include whether toxic chemicals in the flooring can have negative effects on children or the environment, how much cost and effort will need to go into installing and maintaining the flooring, and how often it will need to be replaced.
Creating play spaces that are safe for children is more than just a moral duty but, in many cases, a legal obligation. British Standards EN 1777 requires that the surface of any playground with climbing equipment taller than 0.6m be critical fall height certified. In addition, no playground equipment should be tall enough for a child to freefall more than 3m.
Types of Playground Flooring
There are many different types of surface materials used on playgrounds, including both organic and synthetic materials. Some of the most popular include:
Wood Chips or Mulch
The type of woodchips you’ll find on a playground is not the same type that you use in your garden. Playgrounds use engineered wood chips, also called engineered wood fibre. Engineered woodchips are typically softer than the woodchips and mulch used for landscaping, providing a springy cushioning for falls. They are also tumbled in a machine to round out the edges and prevent abrasions. Wood chips are slip-resistant, relatively inexpensive, and widely available. The initial layer of wood chips should be about 15cm to 20cm deep and be topped off each year with an additional 5 to 8cm.
Sand is soft, smooth, and fun for kids to play in. It’s also relatively inexpensive and easy to find. However, it may not be the most effective material for impact absorption. In order to provide adequate cushioning for a 2m drop, you’ll need about 30 cm of sand. You’ll also need to replace around 25% of the sand each year. Even if you are only paying a few pounds for each square metre of sand, those costs will start to add up. Sand is naturally occurring, but most play sand is not a natural river or beach sand. It may contain trace amounts of potentially harmful substances like silica and asbestos. Prolonged exposure to dust from play sand may cause health issues. If you are going to use play sand, ensure the manufacturer thoroughly tests for potentially hazardous substances. Sand can also be very difficult to maintain and can also be quite messy.
Artificial grass, synthetic turf, or outdoor playground carpet looks great but requires much less maintenance than regular grass. Although you might pay a higher initial upfront cost to purchase and install it, within 3 to 5 years, you will make back the cost by saving money on watering, mowing, and otherwise maintaining natural grass and soil. Some brands of artificial turf, though not all, are made from recycled materials. When you also consider that you will not have to waste water on watering this grass to keep it lush and green, synthetic grass can also be a more environmentally friendly option for playground surfacing. Synthetic grass provides decent cushioning, though most playgrounds with artificial grass also require additional padding under the carpet to meet safety standards. Occasionally, rubber granules may come loose and stick to clothing and shoes. This surface is quite sturdy and very easy for wheelchair users to navigate. It is also ideal for those with allergies and asthma, as it does not produce pollen.
Poured Rubber Granules
Poured rubber granules may also be called “wet pour rubber” or “poured-in-place rubber” (PIP). Rubber is an excellent choice for playground surfacing as it is highly shock-absorbent, easy to clean, and sourced from natural materials. Poured rubber creates a completely smooth surface that is fully accessible to wheelchairs and other mobility devices. One of the drawbacks with poured rubber is that it can be expensive and takes time and money to install. The patterns and colours available tend to be specialist colour options that are costly to produce than standard colour options again making it more expensive.
A very popular and highly durable outdoor play surface is rubber tiles. They usually start from about 30mm thick and up and come in a variety of sizes and colours. Most tile options are CH certified and provide excellent protection from slips and falls. Easy to install with built in drainage and a non-slip surface, rubber tiles are popular in recreation parks as well as for domestic garden use.
PVC tiles have many advantages over loose-fill playground flooring. However, it might not be ideal for all playgrounds. PVC tiles are best suited for playgrounds intended for toddlers or younger children with low-to-the-ground equipment. They provide a smooth, nonslip surface but do not provide the same impact absorption as other materials. These tiles are light and easy to install on almost any existing surface without any special preparation. Many of them are preferred so water can drain instead of pooling on playground surfaces. PVC tiles are available in a variety of colours.
Rubber chips or mulch are usually made from recycled tires, making them an environmentally friendly and sustainable option for surfacing playgrounds. As far as loose fill for playground surfacing goes, rubber chips are less abrasive than other options and don’t break down over time. However, you may occasionally need to refill rubber mulch as the chips may get washed away in stormy weather or stick to shoes, clothing, and skin and be carried off the playground. Proper maintenance entails removing weeds, leaves, and sticks from the mulch and raking to loosen up any layers that have become compacted. It is slightly less shock absorbent than a solid rubber surface. It is easy for sharp objects and animal waste to become buried in loose fill like rubber mulch, and it is more likely to become uncomfortably hot in warm weather. Rubber mulch is one of the less accessible playground surfacing materials for wheelchair users.
Rubber tiles for playground flooring
It’s clear that rubber playground surfacing is one of the best options for keeping kids safe.
Benefits and Safety Features
Rubber playground tiles are available in different thicknesses and usually start at 30mm as the surface needs to be fairly robust. The Critical Fall Height is important for outdoor play surfaces with equipment and the usual standard is EN 1177 for areas with climbing apparatus. This provides peace of mind that the surface meets the safety standard needed for play areas.
The durable rubber offers maximum shock absorption to prevent injuries in the event of a fall, while the anti-slip surface prevents falls to begin with. With anti-fatigue properties, it prevents soreness and strain over long periods of time. They provide a flat surface for those using wheelchairs or other mobility devices to easily navigate.
Made with recycled EPDM and SBR rubber, which are odourless and free from toxic chemicals that could cause irritation and other health problems, rubber tiles are eco-friendly and ultra-safe choice for outdoor playgrounds.
Unlike poured rubber surfacing, you can easily install rubber playground tiles on your own without the help of professionals. The tiles are light enough for one person to transport but heavy enough that you do not need to use adhesive to keep them in place. If you choose not to use adhesive, you can easily relocate tiles to a new location at any time. Tiles come in different sizes and tend to be square which are very simple to install. Some options include connector pieces to ensure tiles can be joined together to prevent movement while still being easy to remove, relocate, and replace.
Rubber tiles are a low-maintenance playground surfacing option. To clean them, you can simply sweep away dry debris. If you feel like further cleaning is needed, you can use a mop or cloth with water and a gentle cleanser. Occasionally, you may want to carefully inspect the spaces between the tiles to remove any debris that has become trapped there. Unlike rubber mulch or other loose-fill playground surfaces, you won’t need to perform regular top-offs. If your poured rubber flooring were to become damaged, you would need to cut out the damaged section and bring in professionals to refill the section. If a section of rubber playground tiles gets damaged, you can easily remove the damaged tiles, order replacements, and install them yourself. Properly maintained, rubber playground tiles can last up to a decade or more before they need to be replaced.
Other Uses for Rubber Tiles
Indoor leisure centres
Rubber play tiles are UV and weather-resistant, making them ideal for outdoor spaces. However, they are odour-free and can also be used indoors as well. Leisure centres, in particular, can get a lot of value out of rubber tiling for their flooring. Often, leisure centres need to accommodate a wide range of audiences and activities. Rubber flooring tiles are easy to install in many spaces and provide an anti-slip, shock-absorbent surface for all sorts of activities. Rubber tiles won’t dent under the weight of fitness or climbing equipment and can prevent equipment from sliding or shifting. They are ideal for indoor play spaces, weight rooms, and other exercise areas.
Back garden play areas
If you have a large enough back garden, you might purchase your own climbing equipment or swing set for your children. For years, many families have relied on only the grass underneath the equipment to protect children from falls and injuries. However, normal grass and soil do not provide the same shock absorption as critical fall height-rated surfacing materials. It is highly unlikely that the ground in your back garden is naturally perfectly even. An uneven surface can make equipment unstable and increase the risk of falls and injuries. After rain, the ground around your playspace can become muddy and cause the equipment to sink into the ground or slide when children climb on it. Not only will rubber playground tiles prevent injuries from slips and falls, but they provide an even, slip-free surface for equipment to rest on.
Even if you don’t have climbing or playground equipment in your back garden, you might still consider adding rubber tiles to mark off a specific space for playing. Children can easily injure themselves when playing on the ground. Uneven surfaces can cause trips, and muddy conditions after rain become a slipping hazard. Sharp rocks, sticks, and other debris can easily hide under grass. Rubber tiles provide a flat, slip-resistant surface that decreases the risk of falls and provides shock absorption if falls do occur. Your children will also benefit from the tiles’ anti-fatigue properties.
A patio provides a fantastic outdoor space for entertaining in the nicer weather. However, building a stone, wood, or even concrete patio can be expensive. These materials also have their drawbacks. After prolonged exposure to the elements, wood can warp and even splinter. Stone may become slippery when wet. Both stone and concrete are hard surfaces that can cause injuries if someone were to trip while walking across them, and it is more likely that dropped objects will break. You can easily install a patio of rubber tiles on your own, and it is much less expensive. Just select an area of your garden that you would like to use as a patio, level it out, and lay down your rubber tiles without even needing an adhesive. Rubber tiles can withstand any weather conditions and will not develop potentially dangerous splinters. If anyone—adult or child—falls on this surface, they will be less likely to injure themselves. Dropped glasses are less likely to shatter and cause dangerous glass shards. Rubber tiles are strong and durable enough to withstand the weight of patio furniture without denting. It also provides a nonslip surface for both people and furniture.
Outdoor fitness spaces
An outdoor fitness space can be a good solution for those who like to work out but have difficulty making it to the gym due to scheduling reasons and do not have the space indoors to accommodate a home gym. With rubber tiles, you can build a fitness space in the back garden, garage, or shed. They are resistant to all weather conditions and durable enough to take the weight of most fitness equipment without damage. Rubber flooring also provides an ideal surface for preventing injury while working out with its nonslip surface and shock absorbency. It is both firm enough to support your body while working out and cushioned enough to prevent fatigue and stress injuries over prolonged periods. Because they do not require adhesive, you can set up an outdoor fitness space during warmer months and easily store it during the winter.
Rubber tiles are incredibly versatile and can be used in a wide range of settings, both commercial and private.
There are many surface options for playgrounds, however, rubber is the most popular for good reason. It provides the protection and shock absorbency required for kids' safe play while supporting play equipment and remaining low maintenance. Rubber tiles are the go-to option for most play spaces because they are affordable and simple to install without specialist fitters or tools. One of the best things about rubber tiles is that they are so versatile. Not only do they provide a safe and attractive play space but they also work well on Patios, Garages, and as Hot Tub platforms.
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